An unusual beer-tasting dinner Friday night at Bend’s new Deschutes Brewery Public House introduced me to a whole new world.
It wasn’t so much the food prepared by Jeff Usinowicz, the founding chef of Deschutes’ Portland pub, although his pinot barrel-planked wild salmon and cocoa-braised ox tail were truly outstanding.
It was more about the beers: specifically, the uniquely crafted, small-batch beers that Deschutes (www.deschutesbrewery.com) and the tiny Hair of the Dog Brewery (www.hairofthedog.com) blended into a collaboration beer they call Collage.
If you’ve never heard of Hair of the Dog, don’t feel like you’re out of the loop. Although the brewery in Portland’s Inner Southeast has been around since 1995, founder Alan Sprints has kept his annual production down to just 15,000 barrels of its one-of-a-kind brews.
Compare that to Deschutes’ 220,000 barrels a year.
“Our mission has always been to expose beer lovers to something new and unusual,” Sprints told me. “We focus on high-alcohol beers that improve with barrel aging.”
Deschutes founder Gary Fish lauded his longtime friend: “He makes some of the most iconic beers anywhere, to say nothing of the Northwest.”
Two years ago, the brewery owners decided to collaborate in blending four of their highly distinctive beers. From Deschutes came The Dissident, a sour beer, and The Stoic, a Belgian quad. From Hair of the Dog came Fred and Adam. (That’s all: just Fred and Adam.)
The Dissident, a Flanders-style red ale with cherry overtones, and Adam, a Dortmund-style brew with chocolate insinuations, were aged in oak barrels that had formerly held Oregon pinot noir. The Stoic was aged in a rye whiskey barrel, while Fred, made with rye malt and a suggestion of coffee, was aged in a bourbon whiskey barrel.
It took 24 months and more than 100 rounds of mixing and sampling to distinguish the flavors, both subtle and prominent. Then Fish, Sprints and the Deschutes brewing team went to work on mixing the perfect blend. “We expected something really good,” said Fish. “What we got is greater than the sum of its parts.”
“It was amazing how we blended all those different barrels together and you can still pick out individual characteristics from each barrel,” Sprints said. “It was probably the most complicated beer ever put together by any brewery.”
At the Bend dinner, 80 guests were able to individually taste each of the four component beers before sampling the masterpiece.
Assisted by Deschutes’ Bend chef, Katrina Spatrisano, Usinowicz prepared a six-course dinner, each course paired with a different brew.
The Dissident was a perfect match for the smoked Penn Cove mussels that accompanied poached Dungeness crab legs, served with baby greens.
The rye-flavored Stoic was great with the salmon course, served with shiitake mushrooms on gnocchi splashed with brown butter.
Fred’s bourbon accent added a rich flavor to Usinowicz’ self-described “pork and beans” — flageolet beans and bacon-wrapped boar sausage topped with hibiscus-rubbed duck confit.
Shredded ox tail, braised in cocoa for eight hours and served with a morel mushroom flan, was a marvelous match for Adam’s chocolate edge.
Surprisingly, the weakest course was the last before dessert: smoked rib-eye steak with cured lamb bacon, truffled potatoes and arugula salad. But it may have been overshadowed by its pairing with Collage.
The first of Deschutes’ new “Conflux Series” — No. 2 actually came out in 2011, a White IPA made together with Boulevard Brewing of Kansas City — Collage indeed inherits flavors from each component.
Deep caramel in color, it is at once tart and lightly fruity, with its rye and bourbon traits becoming more evident as the beer warms up a bit.
Collage is available at Deschutes brewpubs in very limited quantities, in 12-ounce bottles priced at $12 apiece with a three-bottle limit. A taster tray of the four blends and the final Collage (at 11.6% alcohol, a strong ale indeed) is being offered for $20.
In case you were wondering, dessert on Friday night was an Obsidian Stout chocolate cake with toffee gelato. It went as well with Collage and it did with Deschutes’ 12-year-old Jubel 2000 ale.